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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 3/25/22

Guests: Douglas London, Emily Bazelon, Michele Norris, Sarahbeth Maney


President Joe Biden visits U.S. soldiers in Poland and meets with Ukrainian refugees. Russia scales back its objective of the war as Ukrainian military pushes back against Russian military as the war enters its second month. This week, we watched as one of the most qualified Supreme Court nominees in history, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, faced days of outrageous questioning from Republicans during her confirmation hearing. After hours of chaotic questions from Republicans and open hostility from Senator Ted Cruz, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, sighed and paused.


ALEXANDER PROKHORENKO, KYIV RESIDENT: This is happening right now and this is -- this shouldn`t happen to these people. And this makes me and the rest of the people who don`t want to leave, makes them stay because if not asked then who would help them. If we will leave somewhere and hide then who will be in charge of them.

And this is something that everybody should know. That, you know, the war it`s been a whole month since Russia attacked Ukraine. And Russians bomb hitting residentials building in Kyiv and the large shopping mall was, you know, surrounding this building that was destroyed completely to the ground. And, you know, as the Russian famous opposition journalist, Oksana Baulina. She was killed by Russian military drone and while giving a report to the media.

So, basically, you know, and the overall feeling is quite tense, but we work every day. We continue helping our people and people in need. And we continue distributing food and medicine and we barely could get any sleep.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Yes. Alexander, thank you for this. I hope things have changed differently the next time we speak. Alexander Prokhorenko, we appreciate what you`re doing. The world does see you and you do have our respect. That does it for us tonight. Time for THE LAST WORD. Alex Wagner is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening my friend.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Thanks Ali. Vladimir Putin`s war in Ukraine now officially in its second month has so far claimed the lives of 135 children. In a show of unity with NATO allies today, President Biden traveled to Poland where he met with U.S. service members who are helping bolster NATO forces and are stationed near the Ukraine border.

The president was briefed on the growing humanitarian crisis as over 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced with more than 2 million of them fleeing to Poland. Biden will meet with some of those refugees when he visit Warsaw tomorrow where he is also expected to deliver a major address.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: -- what you`re engaged in as much more than just whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine. We are in a new phase -- your generation. We`re at an inflection point. About every four or five generations, there comes along a change, a fundamental change take place.

The world ain`t going to be the same -- not because of Ukraine, but -- not going to be the same 10, 15 years from now in terms of the organizational structures. The question is, who is going to prevail? Are democracies going to prevail on the -- and the values we share? Or are autocracies going to prevail? And that`s really what`s at stake.


WAGNER: On the battlefield, there are more signs that Russia`s military is suffering crucial setback as Ukraine continues its counter offensive. The Kyiv Independent reports that another Russian general has been killed as Moscow now signals it could scale back its ambitions to try and take over Ukraine.

A top Russian general said today, the first stage of its operation was wrapping up and Russian forces will now focus on seizing control of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, claiming that capturing major cities like Kyiv is no longer a primary objective. This major shift in Moscow`s message comes as Ukrainians soldiers have pushed back Russian forces on several fronts around Kyiv.

A senior Pentagon officials says it appears Russia is no longer pursuing a ground offensive of Kyiv and has instead been forced into a defensive position. That official adds that for the first time since the invasion, Russia has started to move reinforcements to Ukraine from Georgia. And the Pentagon assessed today that in Kherson, the first city that Russia took after the invasion, Russia no longer has full control of that area as Ukrainian forces battle to reclaim that territory.

President Zelenskyy said today that 16,000 Russian soldiers have died adding "Containing the attacks of the enemy, the Ukrainian defenders are bringing the Russian government to the simple and logical idea. We need to talk, talk meaningfully, urgently, honestly and with a result in mind, not to drag out time.`

Today there was a devastating update to the Russian attack on a theater being used as a makeshift bomb shelter in Mariupol. Officials say about 300 people were killed in that attack. The Russians attacked it, despite the theater being marked with the Russian word for children. Written large enough to be seen by Russian pilots.


This new video was taken immediately after the attack. It is one of the incidents cited by the State Department and its conclusion that Russia`s military committed war crimes. We`re joined now by NBC News correspondent Cal Perry in Lviv, Ukraine. Cal, what can you tell us about this latest developments vis-A -vis Russia?

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: So, if you look at these counterattacks, and we`ll start there because we`ve had sort of a remarkable two days where the Ukrainian army is actually pushing back Russian forces. It`s really three separate counterattacks happening in two different locations around the country. In Kyiv, you have a western push by the Ukraine military. That seems to be the one that`s been most effective.

They`ve retaken a few suburbs. There is a videos of burned out tanks, burned out armored personnel carriers in the western part of the city. In the eastern part of the city, a little bit less successful, but nonetheless, they are on the move. They are still pushing back Russian forces.

And you mentioned that southern city of Kherson. This is I think important for a number of reasons. The least of which is a symbol amongst Ukrainians that even if you take a city, and this is really the only city that Russians were able to even mildly control for a short period of time. Now Ukrainians are pushing them back in Kherson. It is the signal I think that everyone else that even if you take a city, you cannot occupy that city.

On the eastern front, we have sort of the second front of this war, which continues to be the punishing, the absolutely punishing, unrelenting shelling of these civilian areas. Mariupol is becoming sort of the most visible sign of what we`re seeing from this Russian playbook where they just decimate these cities, they decimate these civilian areas. More than 80 percent of the buildings and you see it there, have been destroyed in the city of Mariupol.

There`s 100,000 civilians remaining in that city. The city council refers to them as Russian hostages. And, Alex, we need to start reporting out more what we`re hearing from the Ukrainian government about civilians being forcefully moved and deported from this areas. It is basically as the government here says, abductions. They`re saying at least now 6,000 people they believe have been forced to move out of that area and have been taken back across the Russian border, Alex.

That`s the staggering development. And when it`s so under discussed in all of this. The wet now part, in terms of the civilians who are no longer in Ukraine. Do we have ... Are we confident the 6000 is the number? Or could it be even higher than that?

Well, that the Ukrainian government figure. It could be far higher than that. And we could be seeing this in other cities as well. It is something the people here have feared. We`re hearing reports that people are stripped of their passport, stripped of their legal documents and then moved into Russia.

And again, keep in mind, so many people and families were split when this war started. So many of the men headed to the front, so many families trying to head out of the country. And then there were ones that were just stranded. Those seems to be the most vulnerable. I think the ones that the government are most worried about. Civilians that are trapped, left behind in the cities, Alex.

WAGNER: Wow! That is a staggering development and one that`s so under discussed in all of this, the what now part in terms of the civilians who are no longer in Ukraine. Do we have -- are we confident that 6,000 is the number or could it be even higher than that?

PERRY: Well, that`s the Ukrainian government`s figure. It could be far higher than that and we could be seeing this in other cities as well. It is something that people here feared. We`re hearing reports that people are stripped of their passports, stripped of their legal documents and then moved into Russia.

And again, keep in mind, so many people and families were split when this war started. So many of the men headed to the front. So many families tried to head out of the country and there were ones that were just stranded. Those seem to be the most vulnerable and I think is the ones that the government are worried about, civilians that are trapped, left behind in these cities, Alex.

WAGNER: Cal Perry, as always, thank you so much for the reporting. Joining us now is Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama and an MSNBC political analyst. He is the author of "After the Fall: Being American in the World we`ve Made." A crescent (ph) book as far as where we are right now.

Ben, let me just first get your reaction to this latest news about the Russians may be moving their forces to Donbas and not focusing as much on Kyiv and other major cities. I think a lot of us in the west, and probably certainly in Ukraine, are desperate to see the outlines of an off ramp for Putin and an end to all of this.

How much should we take heart in this latest intelligence that maybe Russia is moving away from a broader offensive in Ukraine and beginning to think about an exit strategy?

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it`s potentially positive with some really big caveats. Alex, at the beginning of this war, there`s always a question of, well, what is Russia`s intent. And one idea was that they were just going to focus on the Donbas, not eastern Ukraine. And perhaps try to take Mariupol and connect the Donbas down to Crimea, which they also control.

Unfortunately, tragically, the barbaric situation that unfolded was the more maxim was Russian objective where you saw them trying to take Kyiv. You saw them as if they`re trying to conquer the country. You saw rhetoric from Putin about denazification, demilitarization that suggested really here was regime change in Kyiv and are kind of Russian controlled circumstance in Ukraine.

Given all the losses they`ve suffered, given the consequences that they`ve faced, given the resilience of the Ukrainian people what may be happening here is Russia retreating from those more maximalist objectives to that smaller objective.

Now, the problem though, Alex, is that is still a massive violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.


RHODES: That is still a permanent danger to the Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine in Ukrainian land. So while it is less than what Putin might have saw at the beginning, even if they truly are climbing down here, they`re still trying to do something the Ukrainians could never accept and would leave millions of people in danger of Russian subjugation.


WAGNER: Yes, I mean, that`s the question, right? Like the smaller piece of the pie is still a piece of the pie that he doesn`t deserve. So what is, like, what`s the guidance for the west? I mean, just Donbas is not acceptable and yet everybody wants an end to the maximalist carnage. So, like, I mean, what`s Biden to do in all of that?

RHODES: Well, I think when it comes to the negotiation, the guidance to the west is take the lead of the Ukrainians. You know, what the Ukrainians can accept, they get to decide what they can accept. And I would expect that the Ukrainians are going to insist on sovereignty and things like giving up the Donbas are going to be things that are difficult, but not impossible for President Zelenskyy.

That said, you`ve heard him talk about things like giving up on NATO membership and accepting NATO neutrality. You know, Russia has made demands about recognizing Crimea. He may not want to do that, but I think, you know, that obviously has been a status quo until now. I think the sticking points are going to be if this is where the talks lead and Putin basically tries to establish some degree of control over the full Donbas in Mariupol.

And that -- keep in mind, Alex, that not only connects Crimea up to the Donbas. It cuts Ukraine off entirely from the sea. So these are things that I think will go beyond what Ukrainian red lines are in negotiations, but I think the role of the United States ids to backup Ukraine and whatever position they want to take at the negotiating table, that should be our position.

WAGNER: You know, I mean, the stakes of this aren`t just what happens to Ukraine and what`s access does Russia have to various parts of the globe. I mean, Biden put it in very stark terms today, which is effectively are democracies going to prevail or is the world going to be run by autocracies?

I mean, and that is the theme you`ve explored in your book as well. When you couch it in those terms, it offers very little room for negotiation, right? I mean, this is really, I mean, Biden I positioning this as a fundamental fight between good and evil. And I just wonder how complicated that makes the diplomacy around it.

RHODES: It does make it more complicated, but it happens to be the reality, Alex. And look, things have been moving in a negative trajectory in terms of democracy in the world for some time. But there are these fault lines and there are these fault lines particularly around the two chief authoritarian systems in the world, Russia and China.

Ukraine is he fault line along Russia`s border, a country that wants to be democracy. It does not want to be subjugated by Russia. With this enormous strength bearing down on it. China has its own fault line including Taiwan where the people there want to be a democracy, don`t want to be part of China.

I think a part of what is so notable is there is a contest between democracies and autocracies and the people, the people who should get to decide have made clear where they stand. You know, Ukrainians could have just submitted to Russian domination or those Russians speakers that Putin said he was coming to rescue could have welcome that. They did not. Because they don`t want to live like that. They don`t want to live under the thumb of a dictator.

They want to have self-determination. They want to have sovereignty. They want to have their own democratic system. And they want to be connected to other democracies. That`s the message that exudes from President Zelenskyy and everything that he says. And we have seen similar things, by the way, in places like Hong Kong and also in Taiwan.

And so I think President Biden is right, like, this is about the future of the way in which governments, societies and the international order, how that is going to be organized going forward. And if we live in a world in which people who want self-determination can be subjugated, it`s going to be dark days ahead for democracy.

WAGNER: Yes. I mean, and you`re right. It`s not as if there is a question about where the people want to go. They`ve made their choice abundantly clear, so much so that they`re willing to risk their lives for it and Ukraine. Ben Rhodes, thank you as always for joining us on this Friday evening.

Coming up, as one sanctioned Russian oligarch complains about not being able to afford a cleaner or a driver, there are real signs of dissent inside the Kremlin around Vladimir Putin. We`ll talk to a CIA veteran who says that could be a real opportunity for the United States. That`s next.



WAGNER: It`s been just over one month since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, and we are starting to see top level Russian officials break with Putin even leaving the country over the invasion. The pain of western sanctions is increasingly being felt by Russian oligarchs.

The man next to Putin in this photo is Peter Aven. And "The Financial Times" reports the British government estimates that he is worth almost $6 billion, or at least he was.

Aven told "The Financial Times" that since being sanctioned, "Our business is completely destroyed. Everything which we were building for 30 years is now completely ruined and we have to somehow start a new life. Will I be allowed to have a cleaner or a driver? I don`t drive a car. Maybe my stepdaughter will drive. We don`t understand how to survive."

According to "The New York Times," Russia`s military failures on the ground in Ukraine and the intelligence failures that got it there are leading to a blame game within top Kremlin circles. According to Russian intelligence expert, Andrei Soldatov, who spoke to Lawrence here earlier this week, the top Russian intelligence official in charge of overseeing the recruitment of spies and diversionary operations in Ukraine, he has been put under house arrest along with his deputy.

Our next guest believes blood is in the water and that Putin`s mistakes could mean opportunities for the United States. Douglas London is a 34-year veteran of the CIA and in an op-ed for the "Wall Street Journal" he writes, "Mr. Putin`s self-inflicted damage has done more to turn his own people against him than anything the west could have done. The more he tightens the security screws and covers Russia`s window to the world, the more likely those he depends on will turn against him."


Douglas London is a retired CIA operations officer and a professor at Georgetown University Center for Security Studies. He`s also the author of "The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence." Douglas, it`s a fascinating new dimension to all of this. The idea that this could pose an intelligence gathering opportunity for the United States. How would U.S. intelligence agencies go about capitalizing on this opportunity?

DOUGLAS LONDON, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, Putin`s effort to restore the Soviet Union in its Cold War model really creates conditions that are ripe for espionage. Our best agents over the years in Russia have been ideologically driven to strike back against what they saw as a corrupt regime.

But usually they needed a crisis, something that would precipitate their willingness to cross that line and take the risk. What Putin has done in Ukraine and his repression at home has certainly provided the crisis. The Ukrainians have provided the inspiration and the United States can offer the tools for people like this to strike back.

And many of these best Russian agents we`ve had were in fact volunteers. People who were driven to take action even though they were part of the elite. So I think right now what we see is going to be a situation where people who have opposed Putin may be in their heart, might be more willing to take the bigger risk to step up and do something because they are loyal to Russia, but not to the government.

WAGNER: That`s such an interesting dimension of spy craft, right. I think a lot of us think of spies as kind of calculating, cold blooded mercenaries of a sort. But what you`re saying is that this could be a recruitment opportunity because some of the best spies have an emotional investment in overturning a particular regime. Is that right?

LONDON: They`ve usually been affected by something personally. There is a confluence of events, usually it affects them or their family. And they might have always considered that things were not as they wanted them to be, but something needs to kind of push them over the edge.

I think Putin has given them that crisis. I believe that Russians who believe in their country and believe in their history will take action at some point and you don`t need many of them because of what Putin has done to them and their families and their futures.

WAGNER: Douglas, you know, we`ve talked so much in this conflict about the seemingly stunning miscalculation, if you will, on the part of Russia`s military, right? They just are not equipped to fight this ground war in Ukraine. They are running short on supplies, et cetera, et cetera. Their strategy is wrong.

But I think the under discussed part of this is the failure of Putin`s intelligence services, right? I mean, he seems sorely outmanned when it comes to Russian intelligence versus American intelligence. American intelligence on all of this, Russian troop movements and Russia`s ultimate intention to invade Ukraine, Biden has been spot on. The CIA has been spot on.

Do you think the bigger story here is how much Putin has been failed by his own Russian intelligence? What does that tell you about the strength of, you know, Russia`s intel services?

LONDON: Well I think you reap what you sow. So, I don`t really believe the Russian intel services had the same sense to speaking truth to power. I think Putin has created this cult of personality around him where those who have bad news to provide are less likely to do so. So I agree that his calculus was based most likely on flawed intelligence, but who`s going to tell him that he`s not wearing any clothes?

So, you mentioned the house arrest of General Beseda who is in charge of his hit service. That`s the foreign intelligence group of the FSB. The FSB has really been his source of strength and power. In fact, he gave them responsibility for these near former Soviet states like Ukraine and Belarus. And yet, he`s the first one we read about who`s at a minimum been sacked and perhaps under arrest.

We`ve also seen him arrest perhaps, at least fire his deputy chief of the national guard. That national guard is responsible for protecting the regime. There are the ones who go into cities. They put down the riots. They put down the protests. And they were dispatched into Ukraine for an occupation, but what they saw was an actual fight, a resistance.

They were driving around in unarmored vehicles and they were shellacked. We quickly saw the deputy removed, but not the chief, which I also think is intriguing.

WAGNER: There`s a lot to be gleaned in those choices that Putin is making vis-A -vis his top official. One last question for you because we mentioned this oligarch in London. Do you think these guys who have some correspondence with Putin, they check in with him quarterly, if you will. They`re not in Russia. They are now exiled somewhere else in the world and they have lost a lot of their fortunes or had their fortunes frozen. Do you think they could make candidates to be recruited for gathering intelligence on behalf of the United States?


LONDON: I think they would have historical information but not current intelligence. I`d be more interested in the oligarchs who have left behind, who have lost perhaps billions of dollars, who might be more willing to talk. But more than likely what we need are officials who are in his inner circle as bureaucrats, as officials, diplomats, security officials, military officers who feel Putin has done their country wrong.

And those are the ones most likely to be available to us to volunteer or to be receptive to our approaches. The oligarchs come in different sizes and flavors. There are some who do have influence. Those who left the country probably less so.

WAGNER: Fascinating. A fascinating dimension of all of this. Douglas London, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

LONDON: Thanks for having me in the program.

WAGNER: Coming up, what does it mean for the Supreme Court that the spouse of one of its justices was encouraging the Trump White House to overturn the 2020 election? More on the text messages from Ginni Thomas to Mark Meadows, and what it means for the January 6th Select Committee`s investigation of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. That`s next.



WAGNER: This week, we watched as one of the most qualified Supreme Court nominees in history, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, faced days of outrageous questioning from Republicans during her confirmation hearing. Republicans may be laser-focused on the importance of a lifetime appointment to the court but they are turning a blind eye to the conduct of a current sitting member of the court and his spouse who was using her influence to try and overturn the 2020 election.

Today, Justice Clarence Thomas was released from the hospital after reports of an unspecified illness. While Justice Thomas was hospitalized, the "Washington Post" revealed text messages obtained by the January 6th Committee, tying his wife, Ginni Thomas, to Donald Trump`s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In the week surrounding the election, Ginni Thomas sent dozens of text messages to Trump`s chief of staff, Mark Meadows. She encouraged Meadows to push claims of voter fraud and to work to prevent the election from being certified

Reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa said this about the text messages they obtained.


BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR: "WASHINGTON POST": Ginni Thomas was acting like a political consultant, a true believer political consultant or campaign manager.

ROBERT COSTA, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Ginni Thomas, though, is clearly communicating a legal strategy, a messaging strategy, political strategy with the chief of staff of the White House, executive branch official, communicating with the spouse of a judicial branch official. And in these text messages, we also see discussion of the legislative branch.

A map of Trump relationships and this mission to overturn the election stretching across the entire U.S. Government.


WAGNER: Justice Clarence Thomas has already ruled on the case involving the January 6th attack on the Capitol. He was the only justice to publicly dissent when the person Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump had to turn over documents to the January 6th Committee.

Given the extent of his wife`s involvement in the January 6th insurrection, Justice Thomas should have recused himself. The law says he should`ve recused himself.

Specifically, federal law prohibits Supreme Court justices from hearing cases in which their spouses have quote, "an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding".

But Republicans don`t think Justice Thomas should have recused himself. Republicans, including House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUS MINORITY LEADER: I think Justice Thomas can make his decision that he`s made every other time. It`s his decision based upon law. If you spend any time studying the Supreme Court justice, he`s one who studies correctly.


WAGNER: Joining us now is Emily Bazelon, staff writer for the "New York Times Magazine" and a fellow at Yale Law School. She co-host the Slate podcast, "Political Gab Fest".

Emily, I am no lawyer. But this seems like a clear violation of federal law. And yet, Republicans, Justice Thomas, don`t seem at all move by the evidence at hand. So what recourse is there in a case like this?

EMILY BAZELON, "NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Well, very little recourse, Alex. So the issue here is that Supreme Court justices get to decide when to recuse themselves, when to sit out hearing a case and their decisions are not reviewable.

So yes, there is a federal law setting a standard that would absolutely seem to apply in this case. And the idea that a justice whose wife is basically on the team for trying to overturn the election, the idea that the justice should recuse himself, that should be a bipartisan principle.

But in this case, we have this highly partisan contentious atmosphere. And unfortunately, this is turning into one more division between Republicans and Democrats.

WAGNER: Do you think that division extend all the way to the court, though? I mean, I`m not trying to put -- I mean Justice Roberts -- Chief Justice John Roberts -- he is an institutionalist in a lot of ways, right? He cares a lot about the reputation of the court.

He looks at the same news we are looking at. Does he play any role in trying to encourage Thomas to do the right thing? Or do you think that that is a fools errand?


BAZELON: That`s a great question. I cannot imagine the Chief Justice Roberts is not -- oops double negative. I am sure that he is distressed by this news. How can he not be?

You are right. He cares about the court`s reputation. This is damaging. There is clearly an appearance of impropriety here whether or not Justice Thomas and Ginni Thomas were talking about her efforts to overturn the election.

The appearance looks bad. Whether there is something going on behind the scenes, whether Chief Justice Roberts can quietly said to Justice Thomas, you know, we have more of these January 6th cases pending, you really need to get out of the next one. There`s just no way to know about those private conversations.

WAGNER: I just wonder, I mean, it could get worse for the Thomases too, right? Now, there`s talk that the January 6th Committee could subpoena not only Ginni Thomas but Clarence Thomas.

A, can that legally happen? And B, I mean just how catastrophically damaging would that be to the reputation of the court if a sitting Supreme Court justice is subpoenaed for a committee that is investigating attempts to incite insurrection?

BAZELON: Yes. That would certainly not look good for the court. It would raise all kinds of difficult legal questions about separation of power among the branches. Does Congress have the authority to do that? Wouldn`t that question ultimately be up to the Supreme Court which reviews the subpoena power of Congress.

Usually it does so with Congress is subpoenaing people outside the court. So you know, that would be a real mess.

I think one question would be, what would congress really get? If we are talking about, presumably private communications between Justice Thomas and his wife, what really is there to subpoena? But it certainly would be a way to try to embarrass him and embarrass the court.

WAGNER: I mean, and also tie everyone in the legal world into an insane number of knots trying to untangle whether or not it was allowed or not.

Emily Bazelon, it`s always good to see you. Thank you for your expertise this Friday evening.

BAZELON: Great to see you too. Thanks for having me.

WAGNER: After hours of chaotic questions from Republicans and open hostility from Senator Ted Cruz, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, sighed and paused. We will talk about why so many women of color who exactly what she was saying with that moment of silence.

Michele Norris and Maya Wiley will join us coming up next.



WAGNER: Today, Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. All but assuring she will get all 50 Democratic votes and be confirmed next month.

Judge Jackson deserves bipartisan support and her confirmation to the court, but it`s not yet clear she will get it. In June, three Republican senators -- Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted to confirm her to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Now nothing about her qualifications has changed in the time since then.

As Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee yelled at Judge Jackson, accused her of lying and catered to QAnon conspiracy theories, Judge Jackson kept her composure, unlike another recent Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who faced a serious and credible accusation of sexual misconduct, yelled and got visibly angry and affronted during his confirmation hearings.

Judge Jackson was badgered by angry Republicans about books she hasn`t written or read, and she could only, well -- take a look.


SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Senator, I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist.


WAGNER: Lawyer and fellow Harvard Law School graduate Elie Mystal wrote in "The Nation" about what he saw there in Judge Jackson`s response. "Jackson started to answer. She said Senator, and then she sighed and then she paused for a long time. As the silence filled the room, I felt like I could see Jackson make the same calculation nearly every black person and ancestor has made at some point. It`s the calculation when black people try to decide, am I going to risk it all for this?

Jackson took a moment to decide if it was worth it to throw everything away -- her chance, her good name, maybe even her whole career, just to tell Ted Cruz, a man she`s known for over 25 years, what she really thought of him. She decided against it, of course."

Joining us now is Michele Norris, a columnist for the "Washington Post" and founding director of "The Race Card Project", and Maya Wiley, incoming president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She`s also an MSNBC legal analyst.

don`t even know where to begin here but Michele, that moment where Judge Jackson pauses and really, I believe that Elie Mystal nails it. It`s this calculation of like, am I actually going to say what I think, or am I going to say what I have to do, what I have to in order to keep these proceedings moving along.

I want to quote a little bit more from that op-ed. "There was no evidence that Jackson had read anti-racist baby, but it didn`t matter. Kendie`s black -- Kendie, the author -- and Jackson`s black. So for some reason it`s ok to ask Jackson to answer for the ideas in Kendie`s book.

This is something Elie calls guilt by association. And it`s also known as the trope the cliche that all black people know each other. And Ted Cruz seems to actually think that. Do you agree with that, Michele?


MICHELE NORRIS, "WASHINGTON POST": You know, I don`t know what Ted Cruz thinks. I`m just going to judge him by the way he acted during the hearing. And I don`t pretend to know what she was thinking in that pause, but boy, was it familiar to me.

And a pause can be very useful in gathering your thoughts, but in that case I thought it was brilliant to just let what he said and what he did, and the way he comported himself in a judicial hearing to let that just sit there for a moment. It`s almost like turning the spotlight back on him.

Did you just see? Did you -- you know, your eyes aren`t fooling you and your ears aren`t fooling you. And while she is going to be lauded for her composure throughout the week, deservedly so, it`s sad that we have to even award her for that. That we have to reward her for that. She shouldn`t have faced what she faced in that room.

In other cases, you know, you talked about Ted Cruz, Senator Graham in previous hearings when he voted for Elena Kagan, he said that his job was in part to protect the judiciary and to ensure that hard-fought elections had meaning in our system.

I invite people to go back, and look at what he said. What he said when he voted for Justice Sotomayor. And at that point he said elections have consequences. He showed respect for the system and respect for the nominee. And Unfortunately, there was not enough respect in that room this week.

WAGNER: Maya, I had thought for a moment that because Judge Jackson`s confirmation would not change the ideological balance of the court, and because the Republican Party is so damaged by racist rhetoric within the party, that they would take the easy way out here and just vote for her confirmation.

But we could face a situation where she gets confirmed with not a single Republican vote. Do you think that matters for history?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I do think it matters for history. And let me just say why. I actually wrote a piece about this (INAUDIBLE) before the confirmation hearings. This was my fear.

But it was my fear because really what`s happening is not about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson because every single senator on there knows that she`s highly qualified. The American Bar Association classified that she was well qualified, their highest rating, and they confirmed her for three times before this moment.

This was not about her. It was a willingness to use this black woman, this highly qualified jurist, this lawyer, this mother, this human being, as a wedge -- as a wedge in a nation that is already so deeply divided.

But that really was what it was about. And the worst part -- I actually agree a lot with Michele about what she said about that moment of silence. Because that was not about -- this isn`t about me. But you are going to abuse me. You are going to abuse me, you`re going to abuse me as a black woman for your own ends, which for whatever the political populace is for you, is going to take a flawless democracy and throw it down the toilet.

And I don`t mean that democracy actually that`s what actually happens, because that`s up to us. But one of the most encouraging things I saw was a white man taking on (INAUDIBLE) in a community meeting about how she was treated during this confirmation hearings. And that is my hope for America.

WAGNER: There`s another aspect to all of this which is just her as a woman. And Michele, you wrote a really interesting piece in the "Washington Post" that I want to quote a little bit of.

"Women everywhere, whether they work outside the home or full-time at home keeping it all intact, wrestle with the concern that the idealized standard of motherhood might be just beyond their reach.

But here`s the thing, they rarely say that out loud. You don`t admit that the juggling is hard, because you might let down the sisterhood if you can`t fly the flag for supreme efficiency."

I`m thinking of Judge Jackson`s opening remarks, where she acknowledges that she may not have always done it right in terms of balancing career and parenting, and how meaningful that was for other women who were watching.

But I got to ask you, why do we, as sisters, as fellow mothers, as women, hold up the bar that high that you can`t talk about how difficult it is.

NORRIS: Because we don`t want anyone to know how difficult it is. We want to pretend like we have it under control. When people say, I got this, they say it as if it has an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, and really, most of the time it`s a question mark. Do I have this? Am I getting it right?

And the fact that she said I may not have the balance right, and it was in her prepared remarks. So it was something that she decided to say. She decided to use that moment with the international klieg lights on her, to point to the challenge of motherhood.


To me it was a moment of empathy. It was a moment of courage. And it also was a demonstration of a woman who knew her power and was comfortable in doing that and saying that to her two beautiful daughters, but knowing that she was speaking to women all over the place.

And I think that women anywhere in the world would hear that statement and feel something deep inside their soul. And maybe she was demonstrating a path for other people to talk about.

You know this really is difficult. Because unless you admit it`s difficult you cannot remedy how difficult it actually is.

WAGNER: Well, I will say as a working mom, it is insanely hard, and I make more mistakes than right moves.

Michele Norris, and Maya Wiley, two wonderful women, fellow sisters, thank you for joining us tonight.

WILEY: Thank you.

WAGNER: Coming up, we will pick up where we left off in that conversation. An epilogue of sorts to Judge Jackson`s admission about the difficulty of balancing work and motherhood and her distinguished career.

So forget all the racist babies nonsense, because tonight`s LAST WORD is all about what matters in this historic nomination and in this case, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.




JACKSON: I`m saving a special moment in this introduction for my daughters, Talia and Leila. Girls, I know it has not been easy, as I`ve tried to navigate the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood. And I fully admit that I did not always get the balance right. But I hope that you`ve seen that with hard work, determination and love, it can be done.


WAGNER: That was one of the singular moments in the historic confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Certainly the many working women who heard that and felt that will not forget it.

And there were others: Cory Booker`s poignant speech that asked us to remember what was important about this week and what was not.

But if there was one image that did just that, that captured what`s mattered about this week, it was this one by Sarahbeth Maney of the "New York Times".

The papers caption reads in part, "Judge Jackson`s daughter, Leila, 17, smiling at her mom on the first day of the hearings".

On her own social media page Sarahbeth Maney wrote, "Being the first often means you have to be the best."

Joining us now is the one behind that photograph, "New York Times" photography fellow Sarahbeth Maney, who took that iconic photo.

Congratulations on taking the iconic photograph of a historic confirmation process, Sarahbeth. Let me just first get to how that photograph ended up happening. I know you said that you instantly posted the photo because "I knew what I felt when I took the photo." What did you feel when you were taking that photo?

SARAHBETH MANEY, NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you, Alex. When I saw Leila look towards her mother, I saw just the pure expression of admiration and pride that she had in her mother. But more than, that I could see her envisioning sort of the hope of possibility that she had for herself. And that was really what resonated with me.

WAGNER: You know, I wonder, we talk a lot about how representation matters, who you are looking at and seeing matters. But what also matters is who is doing the looking. Who has got the lens? Through whose eyes are we seeing the world?

And you, as a woman of color, saw this moment that not a lot of other people saw or you captured it in a way that not a lot of other people, no one else did. Do you think that that was important that you being behind the lens mattered in capturing that moment?

MANEY: Absolutely. I think that if I was not there, the moment may have been this. And actually, when I saw Leila smile for the first time. I did not take a picture. I just smiled as well. And I processed what that might have felt like for her.

And that is when I decided to raise my camera and wait for that moment to happen again. And I`m really glad I was able to capture it.

WAGNER: I mean I have to ask along those lines, I know the D.C. press pool may not be the most diverse. I mean what was the -- was this confirmation process different in terms of the racial makeup of who was in the press corps?

MANEY: Typically, when I`m in the D.C. press pool, I`m the only black photographer and during these confirmation hearings was the first time in my career where I have worked alongside more than one other black photographer.

So that was really a special feeling to know that there were people in the room who were sharing the same perspective as me because as photographers, I think we really draw from our life experiences. And we are able to provide a cultural nuance to the coverage of the hearings.

WAGNER: I think it`s fabulous but you`ve been a fellow at the "New York Times". We have some breaking news. Some news, as they say on Twitter, the Detroit Free Press has just announced that you will be joining them full- time this summer. What a win for the Detroit Free Press.

Congratulations, Sarahbeth. We are thrilled that you are going to be pursuing the important work of photojournalism full-time. I hope you are having the best week ever because you deserve it.

MANEY: Thank you so much. It has meant so much to me just to see this image resonate with so many people. And I`m very excited for all the work that I can continue to do and represent for our community. So, thank you so much.


WAGNER: It`s a wonderful thing to have a woman of color photographing a young woman of color looking at her mother who may be the first black female Supreme Court justice. It`s a good story for this country, especially at this time.

Sarahbeth Maney, thanks for joining us. Congratulations on all your success.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD. I`m Alex Wagner.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH STEPHANIE RUHLE" starts right now.